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the genre's premiere review magazine for short SF & Fantasy since 1993

Nightmare #35, August 2015

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Nightmare #35, August 2015

"And This is the Song It Sings" by Megan Arkenberg

"Where It Lives" by Nathaniel Lee

Reviewed by Lillian Csernica

"And This is the Song it Sings" by Megan Arkenberg follows the seemingly aimless travels of a woman in a pickup truck who gives rides to young female hitchhikers. The woman asks each new rider if she has a ghost story to tell, the real life kind that you can't explain and never forget. Told in a ruminative tone, the story provides hints and implications about the driver and her motivations. These are progressively revealed through her interaction with each girl she picks up. There's an urban legend about a monster who haunts the stretch of highway the driver favors. Truckers have claimed to see it. This makes hitchhiking in this area all the more perilous.

Using the various hitchhikers to develop the driver's character and motivations makes this an intriguing read. All the talk of ghost stories adds an eerie layer that engaged my interest even more. The monster sounds like a cross between Bigfoot and an alien abduction scenario. It clashes with the quiet creepy tone established by the ghost story talk, making me feel like somebody changed channels on me in the middle of the movie. This threw me out of the story and left me wondering if the monster is real or just the driver's way of compartmentalizing the side of her that does bad things to the hitchhikers. I started out enjoying this story, but the mixture of elements just doesn't come together. There is no song, by the way. The only reference to music is a passing comment about the "country-rock radio music" the driver enjoys.

"Where It Lives" by Nathaniel Lee

Eric's mother has died. The story opens on his first day back to school after the funeral. It's too much for him and he retreats under the stairs at school, then at home as well. Reality starts to come unraveled around him. He realizes his own body is mutating as it adapts to his new hiding places. The only person who cares enough to notice Eric's condition is Tilly, a classmate also bullied and scorned. She forces Eric out of hiding and presents him with some answers that are even more disturbing. They do help make some sense of his shattered world and bring him comfort.

I liked the ambiguity of not knowing whether Eric's reality was in fact coming apart or this was just his way of dealing with his grief over his mother's death. The empathy between Eric and Tilly is the strongest part of the story. It's not clear whether Eric is in elementary, middle, or high school. Unfortunately, the story ends just when Tilly's information takes matters to a new level of weird. I like Eric and Tilly enough to want to know more about Tilly's backstory and what she and Eric will do now that they're together in knowing what Tilly reveals. As for the writing itself, several strained metaphors and a glaring grammar error disrupted my reading experience.